General’s Blog Entry Reignites Army Suicide Debate
By Yochi J. Dreazen
National Journal, May 22, 2012
Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard commands Fort Bliss, one the nation’s largest Army bases, so his blunt comments about suicide has raised eyebrows throughout the military.
“I have now come to the conclusion that suicide is an absolutely selfish act,” he wrote on his official blog recently. “I am personally fed up with soldiers who are choosing to take their own lives so that others can clean up their mess. Be an adult, act like an adult, and deal with your real-life problems like the rest of us.”
I am personally fed up with soldiers who are choosing to take their own lives so that others can clean up their mess — MajGen. Dana Pittard
The posting was subsequently scrubbed from the Fort Bliss website, but the comments are adding new fuel to a contentious debate about whether the record numbers of troops who are taking their own lives are acting out of weakness and selfishness or because of legitimate cases of depression and other psychological traumas.
Pittard is expected to formally retract his comments later this week, but suicide-prevention experts believe that Pittard’s blog posting has already conveyed precisely the wrong message to emotionally-fragile troops.
“Soldiers who are thinking about suicide can’t do what the general says: They can’t suck it up, they can’t let it go, they can’t just move on,” said Barbara Van Dahlen, the founder of Give an Hour, an organization that matches troops with civilian mental-health providers. “They’re not acting out of selfishness; they’re acting because they believe they’ve become a burden to their loved ones and can only relieve that burden by taking their own lives.”
Van Dahlen said that Pittard was expressing the raw feelings of anger and betrayal which many feel when a friend or loved one commits suicide. But she stressed that those of Pittard’s prominence and rank “usually don’t say those kinds of things out loud.”
“His statement – whatever motivated it – can do little good for those who are already on the edge,” Van Dahlen added.
Lt. Col. Dennis Swanson, a spokesman for Fort Bliss, declined to comment. Army spokespeople at the Pentagon likewise declined to say anything about the substance of Pittard’s remarks.
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Filed under: Resources Tagged: | Afghanistan, Army, Depression, Fort Bliss, Infantry, Iraq, Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard, Mental Health, Military Family, Military Suicide, Overdose, PTSD, Stigma, Stress, Suicide, suicide attempt, Suicide prevention